Author : Beck Dacus
Mars. Before terraformation, it was a cold, dry, airless wasteland, all because it lost its magnetic field so many billions of years ago. Its core cooled down too far, and the dynamo at its center died, allowing the sun to strip its atmosphere and dessicate it. Some of the earliest astronauts were struck with grief at the thought, and the earliest people to enjoy the New Earth rejoiced in its return.
Now it is happening again.
Some years ago, the G-class planet Eroprota was found orbiting its host star 300 lightyears away. Two years later, a mission was sent to conduct an analysis. What they found was heart-wrenching. Eroprota is in an orbit very similar to modern Mars’, receiving less than half of Earth’s light. It’s slightly larger than Mars, but only by a few percent. The greatest difference is that it is one billion years younger– but it is still dying.
The magnetic field is almost too weak to speak of. Because of this, air pressure on the surface is down to half that of Earth’s. In such cold temperatures, the water in the surface has remained liquid, but that may be about to change. Even with such small amounts of water evaporating, the saltiness of the oceans has gone up by a full half-percent. Ecosystems are being wiped out every couple million years; fossils of extinct species litter the underground, with none of their offspring to mourn them.
You can help.
A donation of just 100 curr will be enough to pay crews to ship one ton of magnesium diboride, a superconductor, to Eroprota, which will be used to make the rings around the planet that generate a magnetic field. The same amount will send over two-and-one-half tons of volatile ices to replenish what this world has lost. Enter the URL at the top of the screen into your ansible and you will gain access to our servers, letting you make the payment *right now*. Eroprota needs your help. Please, instead of buying that new fusion reactor model or space in a Matrioshka virtual reality for yourself in case of body death, please give to the Save-A-World foundation and bring this planet back to what it once was. All the species there will thank you.
(This announcement was paid for by Tipler FTL, providing you with trips around the galaxy in a timely manner since 2281. Environmental systems on Eroprota not entirely understood, the company does not guarantee the reversal of Eroprota’s climate. 8% of money donated will go towards the Save-A-World foundation. Payment process does not support refunds. Tipler FTL is not responsible for hacking of currency transfer and theft of funds, currency lost in transfer hack will not be counted in your name. If project is abandoned for feasibility, cost, timescale-related, or any other reasons, funds not used in Save-A-World program will be held by Tipler FTL for its own purposes.)
Author : Bryan Pastor
It had been there longer than Keen realized, but once it caught his ear, the sound drove him insane. The incessant tapping was foreign, yet familiar. He had heard it before, maybe back in his years on Earth, but in relation to the last ten years, this noise was as alien as the soil they walked on.
Keen first checked his lab, fearing that one of his experiments might have gone haywire. His nursery full of seedlings, thriving in their grow rooms, sat happy and content. The other tests, the unsanctioned ones, those too showed no sign of disturbance.
Bolting into the hall, he closed his eyes and allowed the sound to guide him. Keen moved by feel alone, the tips of his fingers brushing the icy sides of the narrow metal corridor. The noise came from everywhere, making it hard to follow to its source.
Keen stopped, his fingertips no longer felt the wall. He knew where he was before he opened his eyes. The masks of his eye lids let through a comforting glow of natural light. He was in the crew’s mess. There he found them, all of them, marveling as rain streaked down the tall glass walls that separated them from the outside.
“I guess this means we need a weather station.” Keen heard one of the engineer’s joke. Someone laughed half-heartedly.
Beyond the streaks of precipitation was a vast expanse of green, a decades’ worth of effort.
“I’m going out,” Keen announced, “I want to feel the rain on my face.”
The group collectively turned and stared.
“You want to go out without your gear?” A woman asked. Nedra, he though her name was.
“Yes,” Keen replied, “If the plants have put enough evaporate into the air to create clouds, then they must have created plenty of oxygen for us to breath.”
“No.” A tall, thin man with grey hair simply stated.
“I am going out and you can’t stop me.”
Keen ran from the room toward the airlock.
There was a moment of hesitation in the room. Then Nedra shrugged her shoulders as if saying, “I guess I will be the one to stop him.”
By the time she had made it to the prep room, Keen had already managed to seal the inner door and begin the process to exit the airlock. Nedra hurriedly donned her suit. As she fastened the last strap, a claxon blared, the airlock was open. Rushing to the door, she watched Keen step through the opening, he turned and faced her, water already matting his hair. He had a look of triumph upon his face, then it began turning red toward purple and the outer door slid closed.
It took several moments for Nedra and the others to override the system and pull Keen back inside.
A group stood over him, sure he was dead.
“Do you want to pronounce doctor?” Asked the engineer who had joked about the weather station.
Keen gasped back to life. Coughing, he found it hard to suck enough oxygen into his system to make his lungs stop aching.
“Was it worth it?” Someone asked.
“Yes.” Keen replied hoarsely.
“What was it like?” Another asked curiously.
“Like being home.”
Author : Neil Herndon
Looking out. Or looking in. Do we stare into the expanse, or does it and its inhabitants look in on us? Which one of us is the exhibit in a zoo?
In space, windows are structural weaknesses. Down here, if we have windows at all, they need to be over five inches thick. And if we don’t want them to be cones, it needs to be twice that. All the way down here, there’s no light from the surface. It’s pure blackness, a sea of ink.
But I was born here, way down here at the bottom of the world. Where nothing grows. Where no light from the sun reaches. And yet, here we are. Living and growing. And I count myself lucky. Not because the hull of the habitat hasn’t been crushed by millions of pounds of ocean water ready to fill this tiny bubble of air, but because I’m here to worry about that at all.
Limited resources, limited space. Only so many births per year so we don’t exhaust what little we have. Everything’s based on math. Statistics. Crop yield. Air availability. Water. Living area. Required systems and facilities. But we’ve been down here so long, there’s now an entire generation of people who’ve known only the habitat. Born without knowing the surface, without feeling the sun’s rays. We’ve known only this depth, this pressure. Could we even exist above?
This little experiment someone thought was a good idea has become a permanent colony. A nation unto itself.
Some days, I like to pretend we’re actually out among the stars instead of below the ocean. One extreme to another. A space station drifting among the cosmic dust. We can turn on flood lights and look out to our kingdom beneath the sea, but it doesn’t help. Just more darkness. And tiny specks of white. Dad says they look like stars. When he shows me pictures, it’s uncanny. Such brilliance. Such vastness. It seems to go forever. Just like the inky void surrounding us. So I pretend that we chose out there instead of down here. Just for a change of scenery.
There’s something down here. With us. I see it moving late at night. These blue-green lights swim by, shimmering against the backdrop in patterns that shouldn’t exist in nature. Maybe they don’t. It feels so inorganic. Dad says I’m seeing things. Hallucinations from the oxygen mixture. Ocean madness he called it, everyone gets it from time to time. The result of an existence with no natural light, and no real sense of time. That’s why we have the day room, a suite that mimics life on the surface as close as possible.
But it’s not madness. Steve’s dad got Ocean Madness. Got the shakes, the cold sweats, the forgetfulness. I don’t forget. I don’t see strange shadows in the corridors. But I do see the beast. Out there, in the water. In the void. I swear, it comes around at the same time, every night. Maybe it’s drawn by the frequency change from the electrical equipment.
Or maybe it’s looking in on me.
It knows I’ll be there. So it waits. It swims passed, hoping to get a glimpse through my window, my tiny portal to the unknown. Maybe it knows I’m looking for it. So it looks right back. The whole point of this experiment, this colony was to see if life below the surface was possible. No less possible than a colony on the moon or Mars. Only down here, there might already be residents.
And we didn’t ask permission to come.
Author : Matthew Harrison
The mood in the meeting room, dominated by the large screen, was subdued. Only the tall silver-haired figure of James sat unperturbed, yet like the others he was waiting. The younger executives fidgeted.
“How long’s it going to be today?” said Marty, unable to keep silent any longer. “It’s getting worse and worse.” Curly-haired and sharp-suited, he was the rising star of the company – and looked as though he didn’t want to be there at all.
Sandra, looping blonde hair over one ear, glanced at the screen for the umpteenth time. “Nope, still engaged.”
Marty snorted. “What happened to parallel processing?” he appealed to the group. “I thought that was what we were supposed to get.”
One of the other executives mumbled, “Can’t we meet remotely? Don’t see why we have to bloody well be in the same room.” He got up as if to leave.
“I would stay if I were you,” James said quietly. The executive stopped, checked his phone, and sat down again.
Time passed. Sandra got up and adjusted the blinds now that the sun had gone behind the adjacent building. Sitting down, she flipped again through the PowerPoint that she had printed out, murmuring, “China, China, China,” under her breath. Then without looking up, she said, “I’m learning Mandarin, you guys.”
There was a general groan.
Marty had a copy of the PowerPoint too. He leaned towards James, stabbing the document with his forefinger. “What is the basis for this? We are committing everything to China, but it doesn’t show the demand – or even why we’re doing it. This plan,” he flipped through the pages, “it’s a complete black box.”
“We go forward in faith,” James said, without looking at the document, “as we have always done.”
Something in his senior’s complacency riled Marty. “I thought algorithms were supposed to give us analysis,” he objected. “Deep learning, big data, and stuff. Yet look at this – it’s just ramming China down our throats!” He brandished the PowerPoint at his colleague.
“And who wrote the algo anyway?” he continued as James remained unmoved. “Shouldn’t we have him as Chief Executive?”
James cleared his throat. “It’s not the analysis that counts in the end. It’s the wisdom. How all the factors are weighted, run through their dynamics, and distilled into a single mission statement – a China mission statement, if you will. That’s what we’re paying for, or what the shareholders are paying for.”
“But if you can’t re-perform the analysis?” Marty put a finger into the air. “It’s just…”
“…Animal spirits.” James completed the sentence for him. “Randomness. The same as it always was.” He was still sitting with arms folded.
Marty threw up his hands. “God help us!”
The big screen flickered. James raised an eyebrow. The other executives composed themselves and sat up, ready to receive instructions.
An iconic image of a samurai warrior appeared on the screen. “I want you all to focus,” intoned the CE, its voice slightly mechanical. “It’s the next big thing. I want you to live and think and breathe Japan…”
Author : Morrow Brady
“Of course I’ll miss you Serge. I love you” Ren said over-compensating.
“Don’t act rash. It’s a small glitch. The error log’s sent and the patch fix will be here soon” Her voice now a car crash, teetering on the edge of conviction.
Slumped in the kitchen drawer, I rose, wrestled despair from my hairy eyelids, then caught a smirk fading on her face.
“Really?” I shrilled. Springing to my feet and looking up at her.
“I’m stuck in this and you’re laughing at me?” gesturing at my tiny furry body.
Her clenched jaw buttressing a flood of laughter.
“It’s the System that’s a joke, not you Serge. Having your hard-light projection crash like that can’t be easy, especially when it turns you into a cute squirrel, with a big cuddly tail”
She giggled, then reached out teasingly to stroke my tail.
I angrily whipped it away and leapt onto the kitchen bench.
“Another nut” She pointed.
I glanced at the peanut in my tiny squirrel hand and placed it carefully in a bowl on the bench.
“I keep finding them” I sighed through beady eyes. Then took a settling breath and bounced away.
“I’m grateful Ren” My high pitched voice echoed from behind the fridge.
“If System hadn’t scanned my brain after the accident, I wouldn’t be here with you. But I’m a grown man, not a rodent. I have needs!” I stabbed my tiny claws into the air.
“I know Darling” She smiled.
Fine whiskers surfaced from a bowl of grapes.
“Nut” She giggled, pointing again.
I added it to the bowl and the strain surrendered on my tiny squirrel face.
“I’ve had enough Ren. I want it to stop” I buried my face in my hands.
Silence grew like a freezing fog.
The sound of a new system notification scared the quietness away and Ren quickly responded.
“Play new message”
System’s gentrified voice rang out.
“Squirrelfix patch download now available”
Silence stretched an unknown moment.
“Just one more chance Serge” Ren begged.
“Fine. One more” I said stubbornly from inside the bread bin and leapt down to the floor.
“System. Install Squirrelfix” I ordered.
An Alice in Wonderland sense of perspective overcame me.
“What?” I queried.
“Well am I me?” I asked.
She pointed towards the mirror and I returned a smile at the reflection of my human form.
I turned and a huge squirrel tail flicked up like a hairy anaconda.
I gritted my teeth and angrily reached for it. Chasing air circles like Grandma’s stupid dog.
She bellowed with laughter, unable to hold back anymore as dizziness threw me head first into the fridge door.
I steadied myself and got to my feet, spiking a nut I had found into the bowl.
“That’s it!” I shouted and stormed into the Living Room.
“Request shutdown system access. Authorise Serge Braithwaite. Password….” I said loudly.
“No Serge. No!” Ren butted in, yelling.
I gave Ren a look of determination.
“System is currently experiencing shutdown request overload. Please try again later”
I collapsed on the couch staring into space and Ren slowly joined me.
After a long while, I looked down and opened my hand revealing another nut. Ren snickered, then reached over and grabbed it, her rose perfume washing over me.
“I like nuts you know” She whispered.
I watched in horror as she tossed it into her mouth.
She cheekily looked at me as she slowly began to chew.
“Yeah I know” I said.
“But not as much as me” And climbed on top of her.